The digital age has given most people the freedom to say whatever they want, whenever they choose. When something good — or bad — happens, you can let hundreds of people know about it in a matter of seconds through texting, making a cell phone call, or posting a status update on a social network. What about when a friend or family member dies? Is it OK to write an email, send a text, or compose a status update of condolence? Has technology made it simpler for people to communicate to the point that a simple text of “I’m sorry” overrules the tradition of sending a sympathy card or note? Or has this form of communication become so acceptable that other means are now too antiquated?
It is true that the art of a handwritten note or letter has been lost to e-mail. It not only saves a tremendous amount of time, but money thanks to rising postal costs. Often, though, it is OK to send a brief condolence (two or three sentences) this way. For example, if your friend lost her mother to cancer, it is fine to send an email expressing your sympathy. However, don’t send an email condolence to a person whose loved one died if you’ve never communicated this way with him or her. It is not only inappropriate, but shows a lack of consideration on your part.
You should never text a condolence to someone. It’s too informal for such a serious matter. Also, posting or sending a brief condolence publicly on a social network is a no-no unless the death has already been formally announced this way by a family member. Frequently, a link to the online obituary may accompany this announcement so it’s OK to comment or even sign the guest book.
Finally, any sympathy message sent digitally should always be followed up with a personal card or letter. Even if you’ve acknowledged the loss earlier, it’s best to do so again in writing. Make sure you also express your sympathy, include a memory of the deceased (if possible) and end with a thoughtful phrase, poem, or other kind words.
The recipient of the note in the image above said “This letter from my late mother’s doctor changed my life.”